Tariq Khan is Vice President of Consumer Experience at Beamly, Coty’s in-house digital product and marketing technology accelerator.

He is set to speak at this year’s Festival of Marketing, all about Beamly’s aim to build products that create a dazzling customer experience.

Here’s a little teaser from Tariq, with much more to come at the Festival, which is happening on 10th and 11th October at Tobacco Dock in London.

Can you explain the emerging importance of martech in the retail industry, and how this works in relation to marketing?

Tariq Khan: You only have to look at companies like IKEA with their purchase of TaskRabbit, or Nike with the success of their running club, to realise successful products are increasingly deemed to be more than just the physicality of the “thing” their customers purchase. Instead, encompassing everything that they experience as an owner or user alongside the physical item.

Being able to deliver a consistently positive and interwoven experience across both online and offline for consumers is becoming increasingly important – and that’s where martech is invaluable for companies both large and small.

Specifically, for physical retail, the rise of e-commerce has meant that these stores can no longer be just warehouses for stock, more emphasis is needed on creating playful environments to allow customers the opportunity to try products and stimulate impulse purchases. The cosmetics industry has traditionally been heavily experience led, and as such, martech can enrich the relationship with consumers on a number of levels.

How does Beamly’s structure allow for innovation and customer-centricity?

Tariq Khan: Our product division is anchored around discovering the human need we are trying to fulfil with any potential product using methodologies such as “Jobs to be Done”.

This customer centricity is further reinforced by the way we are structured. Using an agile tribes and squads model (made popular by Spotify) has afforded Beamly a much higher level of flexibility and autonomy than a traditional hierarchy which in turn allows space for innovation.

tariq khan, beamly

What role does data play in product development?

Tariq Khan: When developing products, data is obviously essential, but it’s only as useful as how you interpret it and the subsequent decisions which are therefore made.

In many cases it is experience and empathy that uncovers important insights and drives decision making in the product development process. Then, once we have constructed our hypotheses, we use data to validate. That’s why a culture of experimentation is so important.

What has been the most exciting and/or successful digital product you’ve seen come to fruition for Beamly?

Tariq Khan: I’m particularly excited about Max Factor’s Virtual Make Up Assistant which we launched for Max Factor and Boots recently.

Having undertaken extensive customer needs research we developed a solution that understands what the customer’s unique attributes and needs are, and then calculates relevant product recommendations using machine learning algorithms, which become stronger over time.

The assistant then shows the customer how the various makeup recommendations will look on their face in real time using augmented reality, allowing each person to try before they can buy in the comfort of their own home. Then, should the customer choose to buy, the frictionless assistant drops their selections into a Boots shopping basket.

There’s quite a lot of progressive technology in the background of Max Factor’s Virtual Make Up Assistant, but the reason I like it is because we started with ‘this is what we found people wanted’ rather than ‘look at us – we can do this’ – it’s not a solution using technology for the sake of technology. It’s putting the customers wants and needs first and creating an experience with them in mind.

How digital is shaping customer experiences in the beauty industry

Similarly, has there been any projects that you thought would work but didn’t, and why?

Tariq Khan: Over the course of my career I can definitely say there have been a number of times when projects have not worked out – but those are the ones you learn most from.  I would say the number one contributing factor has been when, for one reason or another, we hadn’t practiced true empathy towards our customers.

At its heart, empathy is about taking on a different perspective to your own by understanding the emotional driver behind a customer’s actions, no matter how uncomfortable that can be.

It’s about walking around the snooker table to see the problem from a different point of view. From my experience, this is much easier said than done. It involves investing the time in doing the groundwork and developing meaningful insight from your data.

What do you think the next big thing will be in terms of customer experience for retail? What do customers really want?

Tariq Khan: I think the challenge for established and emerging brands goes back to mastering the online to offline connection.  

Delivering a consistently positive and connected experience across all touch-points is a tough nut to crack and only a few have done it well yet.

Do you think there is an accessibility issue with technology in retail? For instance, do older consumers feel alienated? Younger consumers apathetic or overloaded? 

Tariq Khan: It feels as if there is still work to be done around how we apply technology to the retail experience in order to make it genuinely useful across the wider consumer markets, whether that be beauty, fashion or furniture. When technology is most impactful is when it’s in the background and almost invisible to consumers in elevating their direct experience.  

I believe the opportunity in the short term lies in using technology to empower frontline staff with real time customer data that they are then trained to interpret to convey warmth and empathy. The sweet spot is where technology is used to enrich the human connections rather than replace them.

For example, look at how Apple stores have taken down a lot of the barriers between their staff and customers. They have their staff placed across the store and, should you want a chat, they can look up your history, advise, check stock, take payment, and email your receipt all on the spot with the aid of a simple iPhone or tablet.

Are there any retailers you think particularly excel when it comes to innovation in digital tech?

Tariq Khan: Going back to getting the online to offline connections right – I was in our offices in New York last month and took the opportunity to visit Nike’s House of Innovation. I was really impressed by the number of one-to-one customer service opportunities provided, many of which can be initiated via the Nike app.

The store also includes one floor dedicated to the local community, where – using online shopping data analysis – products are stocked based on local shopping trends, and then quickly restocked as the taste of customers evolves.

It’s a great example of where they have used technology to make their customer service so high-quality and personalised that it compliments online one-click retail, rather than attempting to compete against it.

Want to hear more? Get your ticket to the Festival of Marketing 2019, 10-11 October.